How to Write a Personal Statement

How to Write a Personal Statement

The ideal personal statement will:

  • Bring your entire application to life and leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee;
  • Demonstrate your values, personality, and intellectual maturity;
  • Prove your ability to communicate complex ideas.

There are many different approaches to the personal statement, and while there are some definite don’ts (see below), there is no single correct way to write a personal statement. However, you must make sure that you highlight aspects of yourself that are either missing from your application or deserve more attention. Don’t waste words telling the admissions committees things they already know from your activity list or transcript; at the same time, don’t be afraid to to elaborate on that commendation from the mayor on your community garden project, or illustrate how your internship at the hospital solidified your interest in public health. 

If this all sounds scary to you, just keep in mind that the key is depth. Fill out the picture that your application forms have started to paint of you. Talk about where your interests came from and what you hope to do with them in the future. Give the admissions committee a sense of what kind of college citizen you’ll be (leader, doer, organizer, moral supporter, etc.) by giving specific examples of what kind of high school citizen you’ve been. 

Basic Dos and Don’ts:

  • Do show that you will be a vibrant member of the college community. Your passions, aspirations, and personality should jump off the page.
  • Do prove that you are mature enough to go to college. Success in college takes both intellectual and emotional maturity. Your essay should highlight both.
  • Do talk about struggles you’ve overcome. Discuss how these challenges have made you a better, more thoughtful person. 
  • Don’t rely on a thesaurus. Be precise with your language, and use words that you normally would. This is supposed to sound like you, after all!
  • Don’t brag. You should be able to talk about yourself without sounding arrogant, entitled, or bratty. 
  • Don’t harp on your shortcomings. If your scores aren’t that great, don’t draw extra attention to them! The essay is the place where you get to shift your reader’s focus away from those shortcomings and onto the aspects of your profile that really shine.
  • In general, be specific, and be yourself. Ask your closest friends if the voice of the essay is accurate—does it sound like you? Are you trying to come off as someone you are not? 
  • Show your essay to at least two trusted adults who can comment on your grammar, your writing style, and the appropriateness of your essay topic. 
  • Be prepared to write several drafts. Start by writing everything you possibly can, and then go back and harvest the best parts—the details, the vignettes, the nuggets of story. Then, put those best parts together and do it all over again. You’ll end up with a strong essay in which every word is cogent and deliberate. 
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Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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